Kazoku (華族)

Kazoku indicates the noble class that existed in modern Japan from 1869 to 1947. Kazoku is sometimes further divided into the following: Kuge kazoku that originated in kuge (court nobles); Daimyo kazoku (or Shoko kazoku) that originated in the lords of the domains in the Edo period; Shin kazoku (or Kunko kazoku) who were raised to the kazoku class due to their distinguished contributions to the nation; and Koshin kazoku who descended from the class of the Imperial family to the class of the subjects.

The birth of the kazoku class

On July 25, 1869, together with Hanseki Hokan (the return of the lands and people to the emperor), the administration issued the promulgation No. 54 "About abolishing the titles of Ko (top ministers), Kei (top councilors and court officials over the fourth rank), and Shoko (lords), and changing the titles to Kazoku" which stipulated that the titles of Ko, Kei and Shoko in the former class system should be abolished, and they should be called "kazoku." Total 427 families, including 137 kuge families, 270 shoko families, 5 families which were newly admitted as kuge after the Meiji Restoration and 16 families which were newly admitted as shoko after the Meiji Restoration, became belonged to the newly established "kazoku" class. Initially, kazoku had not been graded. However, in fact there were two kinds of kazoku; "Shushin kazoku" (one-generation kazoku) lost the kazoku status at the death of their family heads who had been practically given the title; and "Eidai kazoku" (permanent kazoku) could keep the kazoku status for generations.

After the promulgation, various families were newly raised to kazoku. Of these, the 26 former kuge families that had had a family member succeed to the position of head priest at a powerful temple or train at such a temple before returning to the secular life and some other families were given the name "Nara kazoku." The Okubo family, the Kido family and the Hirosawa family were raised to kazoku by the favors of Emperor Meiji for the distinguished contributions of Toshimichi OKUBO, Takayoshi KIDO and Sanetomi HIROSAWA; amongst Shin kazoku (or Kunko kazoku), only those three families had been raised to kazoku before Kazoku Law was introduced. In addition, the descendants of the persons who had been especially loyal to the Imperial family were also raised to kazoku in this period.

The title of kazoku

The background of why the title "kazoku" was adopted is unclear. The persons who were engaged in compiling the kazoku system had their own idea for the title of the class: Hirobumi ITO suggested "Kugyo" (compound of 'Ko' and 'Kei' which originally meaning the top court officials); Saneomi HIROSAWA, Toshimichi OKUBO, and Taneomi SOEJIMA suggested "kizoku" (originally meaning nobles); and Tomomi IWAKURA suggested "kunke" (families that contributed to the nation greatly), "meizoku" (noble families), "kozoku" (families of 'Ko') and "gyoke" (families of 'Kei'). After discussions, "kizoku" and "meizoku" remained. However, the title determined finally was "kazoku."

Before the Meiji era, the term "kazoku華族" indicated "Seigake清華家" (族 and 家 mean 'family', 清 means 'pure', and 華 means 'flower') which was the second noblest family status next to Sekke (family status of the families of regents and top Imperial advisers) among kuge (noble families). And until the end of the Heian period, this term had been used for persons from good families.

The establishment of the kazoku system

On November 20, it was decided that among kazoku, former buke (samurai families) should reside in Tokyo. However, those who were appointed to positions at local governments outside Tokyo were excepted from the decision. In the same month, a salary system was established for kazoku (former tosho [high court nobility]) and for former governmental officers, and it was promulgated that former governmental officers should be given the new statuses "Shizoku" (warrior class) or "Sotsu" (lower warrior class), and all people including kazoku should belong to the local governments (to belong to the local governments was especially called "kanzoku").

In 1871, the rule to deal with the Imperial family and kazoku was established, and according to it, kazoku was requested to be role models for all people. From February 20, all Shoko kazoku belonged to Tokyo Prefecture. On August 29, Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) was executed, and Shoko kazoku lost the position of Chihanji (provincial governor).

In 1874, the Kasumi-kaikan Building was constructed for solidifying relationships and promoting interactions among members in the kazoku class. In 1877, Gakushuin School opened for promoting education of children in the kazoku class. In the same year, Jugo Bank (called "Kazoku Bank") was also established. The person who led these arrangements of the kazoku system was Udaijin (minister of the right) Tomomi IWAKURA who was a member of Kuge kazoku.

In 1876, Sozoku System (the system of the paternal family group) was enacted for the integration and solidarity of kazoku, and according to it, all kazoku were classified into 76 groups based on the family lines regardless of the differences of their original statuses as buke (samurai families) and kugyo (court nobles). Some kazoku established each sozoku association with the members belonging to the same group, and they interacted with each other through family occasions such as religious services for their ancestors. In 1878, "Kazoku Ruibetsu-roku" (Record of the Groups of Kazoku) which recorded that classification was published.

On January 10, 1878, Iwakura established the office of President of Kazoku (called "Kazoku Bucho Kyoku" literally "the Department of Kazoku President" which was a name for a kind of disguise) in Kazoku-kaikan Clubhouse to control kazoku. However, Buke kazoku that originated in samurai got frustrated with the control by Kuge kazoku Iwakura, and demanded the abolishment of the office of President. In 1882, the office of Kazoku President was closed, and after that, the Department of Kazoku under the direct control of Kunaisho (Imperial Household Ministry) dealt with the control kazoku.

Although Iwakura politically cooperated with Hirobumi ITO, he strongly rejected Ito and Takayoshi KIDO's ideas on kazoku, such as increasing the members of the kazoku class (specifically, by giving the title to persons who had contributed to the Meiji Restoration) to form an upper chamber in the future and allowing more kazoku's participation in politics. However, after Mikotonori (imperial edict) to establish the national parliament was issued in 1881, Iwakura at last agreed to the Ito's policy. After Iwakura died, the Department of the System Investigation which had been established by mainly Ito developed the kazoku system.

Investigation of a joshaku system

Even before the kazoku system was established, rating kazoku based on the peerage had been discussed. In May of 1869, the following plan was proposed by the Sanshoku (three-post) meeting: Kazoku should be divided into "Ko" "Kei" "Taifu" and "Shi"; "Ko" and "Kei" and Kei were each further divided into the upper grade and the lower grade; "Taifu" and "Shi" were each further divided into the upper grade, the middle grade and the lower grade. In September of 1871, the central state council presented the following plan to the council of the Left for investigations there: Classifying kazoku into these five ranks, "Joko" "Ko" "Ako" "Jokei" and "Kei." Receiving this plan, in October of the same year, the council of the Left proposed the plan of classifying kazoku into these three ranks, "Ko" "Kei" and "Shi." In 1876, the Department of the Legislation proposed the plan of classifying kazoku into these three ranks, "Ko" "Haku" and "Shi," and this three-rank plan was mostly supported before Seinan War.

On February 4, 1878, Great Secretary of the Department of the Legislation Saburo OZAKI and Assistant Secretary Yoshikata SAKURAI proposed to Hirobumi ITO the plan of classifying kazoku into these five ranks, "Koshaku (公爵)" "Koshaku (侯爵)" "Hakushaku" "Shishaku" and "Danshaku." This was based on the description in the king system part of Raiki (Book of Rites), one of Gokyo (Five Classics), that "The salary and title in the king's system is commonly classified into five ranks including Ko (公), Ko (候), Haku, Shi, Dan."

The promulgation of Kazoku Law

On July 7, 1884, Kazoku Law was established. According to this law, all kazoku were classified into these five ranks, "Koshaku (公爵)" "Koshaku (侯爵)" "Hakushaku" "Shishaku" and "Danshaku." The criterion for the rating was based on a paper 'Study on the Peerage System' written by President of Department of the Decoration Sakimitsu YANAGIWARA and submitted to Daijo-daijin (Grand minister of state) Sanetomi SANJO on May 7, 1884; roughly speaking, actual peerages were conferred based on the criterion. At the same time, 29 families of persons, including Hirobumi ITO, who made distinguished contributions in the Meiji Restoration, were newly raised to the kazoku class and conferred the peerage. The Joshaku (conferring a peerage) ceremony was held three times within July of the same year and the total of 509 people were newly conferred the peerage.

The first joshaku based on the joshaku criterion

Koshaku (公爵)

It was decided that, as Koshaku (公爵 commonly translated as duke), only Gosekke (the five families of the Fujiwara clan whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku) originated from kuge (court nobles) and the Tokugawa Shogun family originated from buke (samurai families) were eligible.

In addition, Sanetomi SANJO, Tomomi IWAKURA, the lord of Satsuma Domain Tadayoshi SHIMAZU, Hisamitsu SHIMAZU and Takachika MORI were regarded as 'persons who made distinguished contributions to the nation,' and their families, the Sanjo family from kuge, the Iwakura family from kuge, the Shimazu family from buke, the Tamazato-Shimazu family from buke, and the Mori family from buke were conferred the peerage.

Koshaku (侯爵)

It was decided that, as Koshaku (侯爵 commonly translated as marquis), the Seiga families from kuge, Tokugawa Gosanke (three privileged branches of the Tokugawa family) from buke and the Daimyo families (feudal lord families) from buke, which had been paid the rice stipend of more than 150,000 goku (27058.5 cubic meters), were eligible.

Daini-Sho-shi (the Sho clan, the second), the royal family of Ryukyu, was also ranked as Koshaku (侯爵).

As "persons who made distinguished contributions to the nation," the Kido family (due to the contribution of Takayoshi KIDO) and the Okubo family (due to the contribution of Toshimichi OKUBO) were ranked as Koshaku (侯爵).
The Nakayama family was ranked as Koshaku (侯爵) 'in particular due to distinguished contributions.'
It is considered that the fact that Tadayasu NAKAYAMA of the Nakayama family was the maternal grandfather of Emperor Meiji was taken into account.


It was decided that, as Hakushaku (伯爵 commonly translated as count), Daijinke (families having generated ministers) from kuge, Toshoke (families of court nobles occupying relatively high ranks) which had assumed Dainagon (Major Counselor) many times, Tokugawa gosankyo (three privileged branches of the Tokugawa family, ranked next to Tokugawa gosanke) from buke, and the Daimyo families (feudal lord families) from buke, which had been paid the rice stipend of more than 50,000 goku (9019.5 cubic meters), were eligible.

Among kuge, the Higashikuze family was ranked as Hakushaku for the contributions of Michitomi HIGASHIKUZE. Among buke, the So family, the lord family of the Tsushima Domain was ranked as Hakushaku because the family had been in charge of diplomacy with Joseon Dynasty (Korea); the Matsuura family, the lord family of the Hirado Domain was also ranked as Hakushaku for the additional amount of rice crops of its branch families, which should not have been included originally. It is considered that this measure was taken because the wife of Tadayasu NAKAYAMA, a maternal relative of Emperor Meiji, came from the Matsuura family.

The Otani family that produced the head priest of Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple hereditarily and the other Otani family that also produced the head priest of Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple hereditarily were ranked as Hakushaku as well.

As 'persons who made distinguished contributions to the nation,' Hirobumi ITO, Kiyotaka KURODA, Kaoru INOUE, Tsugumichi SAIGO, Aritomo YAMAGATA, and Iwao OYAMA, all of whom contributed significantly to the Meiji Restoration, were ranked as hakushaku.


It was decided that, as Shishaku (子爵 commonly translated as viscount), Toshoke from kuge not meeting the criterion for Hakushaku and lord families from buke before the Meiji Restoration were eligible.

When head families were ranked as a higher grade, Shishaku was conferred on their branched families as an exception. Among kazoku, there were only three branch families, which were conferred Shishaku as the exception, including the Hidemaro KONOE family (a branch family of the Koshaku (公爵) Konoe family), the Takesada TOKUGAWA family (called "the Matsudo-Tokugawa family," a branch family of the Koshaku (侯爵) Mito-Tokugawa family), and the Yoshitami MATSUDAIRA family (a branch family of the Koshaku (侯爵) Fukui-Matsudaira family.

In addition, as "persons who made distinguished contributions to the nation," the families of persons who contributed to the nation before or/and after the Meiji Restoration were ranked as Shishaku.


It was decided that, as Danshaku (男爵 commonly translated as baron), the families which had been raised to kazoku after the Meiji Restoration, including Tsukegaroke (families had served as special chief retainer) and Nara kazoku, were eligible.

The Ochikoji family and the Mibu family were conferred Danshaku because they had the highest family status among Jigeke (families of non-noble retainers who were not allowed into the Emperor's living quarters in the imperial palace) and had been treated equally to Toshoke.

Fourteen families of hereditary head shinto priests at taisha (powerful shrines or time-honored shrines) and four hereditary head priests at temples of Jodo Shinshu sect (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) were also ranked as Danshaku.

The Imae family and the Nakijin family, the two branch families of the Sho clan (the royal family of Ryukyu) were ranked as Danshaku as well.

In addition, as 'persons who made distinguished contributions to the nation,' the families of persons who contributed to the nation before or/and after the Meiji Restoration were ranked as Danshaku.

In conferring a peerage on kuge, its family status was taken into account to some extent. However, as for buke, family statuses were not considered except for the Tokugawa family, and only the amount of rice stipend they had been paid was counted as the criterion. Because these rules were not made public, various speculations were circulated and some people became to have frustration with joshaku. Among kazoku, families which were not kuge nor lords before the Meiji Restoration were called "Shin kazoku" or "Kunko kazoku."

After this, the number of kazoku continued increasing due to joshaku for people who made contributions to the nation and for people who descended from the class of the Imperial family to the class of the subjects. Some families were raised to upper rank of kazoku. However, there were no families which were regarded. And all "Shushin kazoku" (one-generation kazoku) and all people who were newly given the kazoku status were raised to "Eisei kazoku" ("Eidai kazoku" or permanent kazoku who could keep the kazoku status for generations), at the result, all the families holding the kazoku status were Eisei kazoku.

Privileges of the kazoku class

Yoshio SAKAMAKI who assumed joshaku section manager at Sochitsuryo (Imperial Household Affairs Division) put together the privileges of the kazoku class as follows:

The succession of the peerage (Article 9, Kazoku Law)

The establishment of an admistrative policy manual for your family (Article 8, Kazoku Law)

The investiture (Investiture Code and Kazoku Investiture Rule)

Wearing clothes for the peerage (the instruction by the Imperial Household Agency)

The regulation of hereditary property (Patrimony Law for Kazoku)

The instatement in the House of Peers (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the Decree for the House of Peers)

The discussion on the privileges (Article 8, the Decree for the House of Peers)

The discussion on the modification of the Decree for the House of Peers (Article 13, the Decree for the House of Peers)

The marriage to the member of the Imperial family or other royal families (former Imperial House Act and the Decree for the Imperial family)

The entitlement to have a period of national mourning held for you as a member of the Imperial family (the Decree for the Mourning of the Imperial House)

The entrance into Gakushuin School (Rule for Kazoku's Entrance into Schools)

The possession of the seating in the Imperial Court (the Decree for the Seating Order in the Imperial Court and the Decree for the Ceremonies in the Imperial Court)

The trust for protecting kazoku which were originated from Toshoke (the Decree for the Trust for Protecting the former Tosho kazoku)


In 1886, Hereditary Property Law for Kazoku was established for protecting kazoku's property from being seized by a third party, and consequently, it obliged kazoku to "set" their hereditary property. By "setting the hereditary property," kazoku could have the protection to maintain the family status, and no third party was allowed to mortgage or pledge it. However, kazoku themselves were also not allowed to invest the hereditary property which they had set, so they became to protest about it as well as their creditors. Therefore, in 1915, it became possible to cancel the setting of the hereditary property at the owner's discretion. And some kazoku from Toshoke (high court nobles) having trouble with financial bases were given financial helps from the national treasury by the Decree for the Trust for Protecting the former Tosho kazoku. Furthermore, Nara kazoku (originated from priests) and Shinkan kazoku (originated from Shinto priests) having much more trouble with financial bases were given financial helps as well (called "Danshaku kazoku Keijutsu-kin," literally, "money for saving Baron Kazoku").


Even in the academic carrier sphere, children in the kazoku class could enter Gakushuin School without examination, and it was guaranteed that they could advance up to Gakushuin High School (in the former educational system). Furthermore, in 1911 or before, a student who graduated Gakushuin High School could enter any Imperial University without examination, if there was a vacancy available in the university. The prescribed number of high school students (in the former educational system) was almost the same as that of the Imperial Universities. Therefore, kazoku could easily take a degree from Imperial University, if they were not choosy about specific universities or specific departments.

Members of Kizokuin (the House of Peers)

According to the Constitution of the Empire of Japan established in 1889, each kazoku class member was obliged to become a member of Kizokuin. The 30-year old or older persons with Koshaku (公爵) or Koshaku (侯爵) became permanent members of Kizokuin, persons with Hakushaku, Shishaku or Danshaku elected as seven-year-term members from among the members; they were regarded as "loyal hedge guarding the Imperial family."

According to the Decree for Kizokuin, it was also decided that a plan to change treatments of kazoku had to be approved by Kizokuin. Therefore, their statuses remained unchanged until the end of the war. Some members of Kizokuin formed factions through gathering at workshop or other meetings within Kizokuin, and such faction exerted powerful influence on the politics.

Relations with the Imperial families and other royal families

According to the former Imperial House Act and the Decree for the marriage of Imperial family, the persons entitled for marrying a member of the Imperial family were limited to members of the Imperial family or kazoku.

Kazoku were permitted to enter the Imperial Court, and if they obtained permission, they could even visit Kashikodokoro, one of the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court. Many of the chamberlains in the Imperial Court were from kazoku, and kazoku also played many roles in events in the Imperial Court, including the ceremony of Utakai Hajime (the Imperial poet-reading party in the New Year). It was also specified that, when kazoku who related to the Imperial family died, the Imperial family and some kazoku should went into mourning; kazoku were regarded as the people who had been keeping strong bonds with the Imperial family.

Social status of kazoku

In the kazoku class, a peerage was provided only for the male who became the head of a family, and no peerage was conferred on the female, even when she became the head of a family. However, she was given the kazoku class status, and when a male became the family head, he could recover the former peerage of the family. However, since the amendment of Kazoku Law of 1907 forbid female to become a family head, all kazoku families had to have male family heads.

By the way, a head of a kazoku family and people who were recorded in the family register were regarded as kazoku. When kazoku were separated from the family register by some occasion such as a marriage to a commoner, they were treated as a commoner since then. Illegitimate children of a family head belonging to the kazoku class became kazoku as well, however, mistresses could not become kazoku even if her son became the family head. Kazoku were permitted to adopt children. However, they had to adopt from within the sixth degree of kinship of paternity line and the adopted children also had to have the kazoku statuses.

Control of kazoku

Kazoku were supervised by Minister of the Imperial Household Agency and Sochitsuryo (the Department of Imperial Affairs) of the Imperial Household Agency, and expected to maintain dignity and grace as "loyal hedge guarding the Imperial family."

It was specified that the children in the kazoku class should be educated properly, and when a scandal was found, the whole family was punished by the Imperial Household Agency.

Criticisms of the kazoku system

When the kazoku system was established, some persons opposed the existence of such a system saying that the system was contrary to the concept of "One emperor and all of the other people are commoners" and that kazoku were useless people eating without doing anything. Mokurai SHIMAJI and Azusa ONO, a secretary of Genro-in (the law-making organization in Japan in the early Meiji period) set out arguments for the opposition, strongly debating on the Asano Shinbun (Asano Newspaper). In 1880, Asano Shinbun published an editorial titled "The kazoku class should be abolished." Within the government, Kowashi INOUE initially opposed the introduction of a peerage system. However, with Jiyu Minken Undo (movement for liberty and people's rights) gaining its momentum, he changed his position to obtain support of kazoku class members.

Taisuke ITAGAKI had the opinion that the kazoku system was against the concept of "equality of all people," and refused two times the offer of conferring the peerage of Hakusahaku in 1887. Since being unable to renegade the emperor's will, he finally accepted the offer of the peerage, however, at the same time, he submitted a paper opposing the kazoku system.

Furthermore, in 1907, he distributed a paper to urge the prohibition against the succession of the kazoku status to all kazoku, at a result, a considerable debate aouse between him and Takeki TANI. Immediate after his death, his family published his last paper to oppose the succession of the kazoku status "Study on the One-Generation Kazoku," and did not take the procedure to success the peerage. Therefore, the Itagaki family as that holding the title "Hakushaku" became extinct.

The reality of kazoku

Although kazoku had been expected to keep being the loyal hedge guarding the Imperial family, in fact, Nara kazoku and those originated in kuge of the middle grade or the lower grade suffered poverty since their original financial bases were very poor. However, they had to spend money for the sake of appearances as kazoku.. The government took measures many times to rescue the finances of kazoku, however, some kazoku even gave up retaining the kazoku statuses. The Shimizu-Tokugawa family and the Kitakoji family were such examples. On the other hand, Shoko kazoku (lord kazoku) originated in dominant lords in the Edo period were still wealthy, and they had good connections with their former retainers, which were helpful in securing their property. However, after the end of Meiji period, some of even Shoko kazoku sold their family treasures for the financial deterioration. In addition, Jugo Bank, called the bank for kazoku, collapsed on April 21, 1927, and many kazoku lost their financial assets.

In those days, Kazoku were some kind of object of people's attention like today's celebrity, and gravure pictures of girls and wives of kazoku often made the pages of magazines such as 'Fujo Gaho' (the Women Pictorial). Kazoku's private lives also attracted people's interest, and many scandals including the one by Byakuren YANAGIHARA and the one by Iwao OYAMA and Sutematsu YAMAKAWA were written in newspapers and magazines.

Kakushin kazoku (innovative kazoku)

In the Showa era, increasingly, there were some kazoku who were interested in reforming the social system and engaged in political activities. These kazoku were called "Kakusin kazoku," and they formed an influential group inthe politics of the early Showa era. Among them, Fumimaro KONOE, Yoriyasu ARIMA, Koichi KIDO, and Yoshichika TOKUGAWA were well-known.

Abolishment of the kazoku system

On May 3, 1947, the kazoku system was abolished with the enforcement of the Constitution of Japan which stipulated the prohibition of aristocracy systems (Item 2, Article 14) and equality under the law (Item 1, Article 14). At the initial draft stage, it had been stipulated that the then kazoku could retain the peerages only while they were alive, however, the House of Representatives decided the principle of the immediate abolition (called "Ashida amendment"). The House of Peers deliberated on the drafts of the Constitution of Japan as well, and as for the kazoku system, they approved the original plan which the House of Representatives had already approved and did not make any modifications to it. According to Yuji OTABE, there were totally 1011kazoku class families while the system existed.

[Original Japanese]